The history behind Detroit's Renaissance Center

DETROIT – The Renaissance Center permanently changed the skyline of Detroit in 1977. The center’s iconic towers are recognizable and have becoming identifying markers of the city of Detroit.

With a little help from the Detroit Historical Society, we have the breakdown of how the Ren Cen came to be.

What’s inside the Ren Center?

The Renaissance Center contains a mixture of office and retails spaces, as well as several restaurants. Most of the offices belong to General Motors.


The Renaissance Center was built in several stages, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

“The first stage consisted of the main five towers and the podium they rise from.  Ground was broken for the project in 1973 in a ceremony that included Mayor Roman Gribbs and Ford Motor Company CEO Henry Ford II.  This portion was completed in 1977,” said Brendan Roney, of the Detroit Historical Society.

From the vault: 1973 special on Detroit Renaissance Center

“The smaller two towers to the east of the original structure were finished in 1981," Roney said.

The People Mover Station was added to the Ren Center sometime in the mid 1980s.

General Motors purchased the building from Ford in the late 1990s and began a series of renovations soon after, which included removal of the large concrete berms along Jefferson Avenue that housed heating and cooling equipment.

The renovations also included the creation of the Wintergarden area on the Detroit River side of the center.


Constructed in the 70’s, the Renaissance Center was designed by Architect John C. Portman.

Portman is the same architect who designed Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, which both have a striking resemblance to Detroit’s Renaissance Center.

Early architectural models show the plans originally included eight more towers

The Detroit Historical Society released a short documentary on the Ren Center that was produced during the construction period: